On a chilly spring morning, students Claire Kiphuth and Daniel Scheidhauer were walking briskly along Presque Isle State Park with heavy packs strapped to their backs. It was 5 a.m., and they and their training partners knew they would have to hurry to complete their 10-mile trek – or “ruck” – in time to make 8 a.m. classes.
Kiphuth and Scheidauer are frequently tested as cadets in Gannon University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC, program while also weighing the demands of the university’s rigorous nursing program.
It’s a challenge that makes a 10-mile pre-dawn ruck look like a walk in the park.
Balancing ROTC’s classes, laboratories and field training exercises with a demanding nursing curriculum calls for next-level commitment from students.
Kiphuth and Scheidhauer undergo physical training from 6 to 7:15 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving just enough time to grab a quick shower and bite to eat before 8 a.m. classes. As junior nursing majors, they also have extensive off-campus clinical assignments that can sometimes conflict with their regular academic and military science classes.
“I’m always looking ahead at what’s due in two days ... because as a nursing major, studying for one to two days before an exam is not going to cut it,” said Scheidhauer, who is a Mercer, Pa. native.
Military discipline is second nature to Kiphuth, a self-described Army brat who has lived in so many places that she has trouble recalling all of them.
For Kiphuth, a life of service that combines nursing and the Army is a family legacy. Her father is a colonel stationed in North Africa, and all her siblings are in the military. Her mother is a nurse, as were her grandmother and great-grandmother.
“I’m the perfect combination,” Kiphuth says.
Scheidauer and Kiphuth participate in a leadership laboratory with other ROTC cadets.
Yet, Kiphuth said neither ROTC nor nursing were in her plans as a student attending a small international high school in a Tel Aviv suburb. Two of her siblings became cadets and enjoyed their experiences, so she decided that was “something I wanted to also be a part of,” she said.
“I’ve had the inclination to want to take care of others, and when thinking about what I want to do in life, it just seemed like it was my calling. It wouldn’t be just a job; it would be a lifestyle. (Nursing) would be something interesting and making a bigger impact,” she added.
It hasn’t always been easy.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself because I have that legacy. So, I thought I would be super good at everything right off the bat,” she said.
That didn’t always happen. On Kiphuth’s first field exercise, she accidentally dropped her canteen into a portable latrine. Yet the lows can quickly turn into high points, as Kiphuth learned last summer in the Army’s punishing Air Assault Training course when she beat her expected time in the required four-mile run by a wide margin.
ROTC leadership laboratory
Personal achievements are important milestones for Kiphuth, but ultimately, ROTC and nursing for her are communal efforts.
“We are all trying to work on academics, work on our (physical training) scores, and just trying to uplift everyone around us. And I think that is pretty special,” she said.
Like hundreds of Gannon University cadets before them, Kiphuth and Scheidhauer will be commissioned into the Army as second lieutenants after graduating with a four-year degree and successfully completing the ROTC course of study. They will join the more than 1,200 officers who have been commissioned from the Pride of Pennsylvania Battalion at Gannon.
It’s a familiar path for Lt. Col. Daniel LaFountain, Gannon’s professor of military science and a former ROTC cadet. Lt. Col. LaFountain heads the Pride of Pennsylvania Senior Army ROTC Battalion, which includes students from all majors at Gannon as well as Mercyhurst University and Penn State Behrend.
ROTC leadership laboratory
Lt. Col. LaFountain emphasized the cadets’ desire to pursue a bigger purpose through ROTC.
“Everybody talks about millennials as being self-centered, but I’ve been so incredibly impressed by all our cadets’ willingness to think bigger, to think beyond themselves,” LaFountain said.
“They want more. They want to do great things. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
By John Chacona, guest contributor